COLUMBUS, Ohio — As Ohio State’s players draped their arms around one another in front of the band at the southeast corner of Ohio Stadium on Saturday to sing the school’s alma mater, 312-pound offensive lineman Jack Mewhort clutched onto the Illibuck trophy as if it were a 24-ounce porterhouse.
On the other side, the Illinois players trudged to their locker room, heads lowered after yet another lopsided defeat.
This time the sixth-ranked Buckeyes delivered the beating, cruising to a 52-22 win in front of 105,311 on a crisp afternoon at the Horseshoe.
With former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith on the Ohio State sideline, sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller (226 passing yards, 73 rushing, three total TDs) cemented his own Heisman candidacy Saturday, completing 12 of 20 passes.
“Braxton Miller is a fantastic football player,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “He can break you. When you think you’ve got him caught up on a pass rush, he can run the football. He does a fabulous job. Braxton Miller is a fine, fine football player.”
While the Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) were posting gaudy offensive numbers, Illinois’ offense struggled to find any consistency, which has been the case much of the season.
The Illini (2-7, 0-5) were outgained 567-170, the second time in three games they’ve failed to eclipse the 200-yard mark.
“It’s too sporadic for me; it’s just not consistent,” Beckman said. “We’ve got to be more consistent on offense. We’ve got to be able to drive the football. You’ve got to be able to put seven points on the scoreboard in the red zone. That’s what I’m used to, and that’s what we’re striving to do better.”
For the second consecutive season, the Illini have lost six straight games, and the Big Ten losing streak stands at 11 entering next week’s game against Minnesota. Saturday’s loss made it official that the Illini would not extend their streak of consecutive bowl games to three.
“Love of the game,” Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (96 passing yards, team-high 36 rushing yards) said when asked what’s left to play for. “Our goal at the start of the season was to get to a bowl game. ... We won’t get there this year, but we have to be a better team at the end of the season than we were at the start of the year.”
An already-rough season got worse for the Illini on Saturday. Already playing without injured running back Josh Ferguson (hip pointer) and safety Steve Hull (shoulder), Illinois lost Butkus Award semifinalist Jonathan Brown to a shoulder injury in the first quarter.
“We’ll do something a little further on Jonathan,” Beckman said. “It was a shoulder. We’ll see how that progresses throughout the week.”